Once home to Cochin’s large, thriving Jewish population, today the “Jew” Town area hosts a series of spice shops, antique stalls and souvenir stores. While most of Cochin’s Jewish inhabitants emigrated following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, many of their houses still stand – painted bright, cheerful colors and built along old world designs.
Visit Cochin’s famed bay, where Chinese fishing nets continue to be operated by hand. Get a brief but robust upper-body workout by helping fishermen operate these magnificently antiquated contraptions, with giant rocks used as counterweights. If you make an exceptionally good haul, you can buy fish straight from the men manning the net and have a hawker near the Dutch House (a few minutes walk away) fillet it on the spot.
Explore the winding, narrow streets of Cochin, which sport a charming, unusual blend of colonial architecture and native aesthetics. Walk past houses with whitewashed stucco walls and tiled roofs, imposing forts with grand archways, and Catholic churches reminiscent of old Portugal – with prominent bell towers, columns, and high ceilings.
Meet an affable and welcoming woman who is an expert chef in the Syrian-Christian culinary tradition; Remote Lands can arrange private cooking classes in her home for those interested in learning more about this cuisine.
After cruising to a delta with smaller canals, switch to a canoe, which will be manned by a backwaters resident. Glide past well-kept homes where you’ll often see women doing laundry and hear children cheekily calling out. The backwaters are a must-do in Kerala, and as such are quite popular with domestic and international travelers who sometimes have treats for the children they meet.
Explore the backwaters of Kerala from a houseboat. The merging of the freshwater rivers and the saltwater in the Arabian Sea creates lagoons and lakes along the coast that are home to unique marine biodiversity.
Visit the historic Paradesi Synagogue, which was built in 1568, and stands in Cochin's old Jewish quarter, known as "Jew" Town. Cochin Jews are so few today that they cannot form a minyan – a quorum of 10 men – without Jews from outside Cochin, but services are still held here, making it the oldest functioning synagogue in the commonwealth of former British colonies. Antiquities that you will see inside include the Scrolls of the Law, several gold crowns received as gifts, many Belgian glass chandeliers and a brass-railed pulpit.